Can’t get away for weeks at an ATEC? Tired of trying to motivate yourself to study? We visited four “MCSE boot camps” to find out if they’re a good use of your training dollars.
The Few. The Proud. Could You Survive MCSE Boot Camp?
Can’t get away for weeks at an ATEC? Tired of trying to motivate yourself to study? We visited four “MCSE boot camps” to find out if they’re a good use of your training dollars.
Hold on a minute! We know what you’re thinking.
“MCP Magazine covers boot camps? What next:
Top 10 brain dump sites on the Internet?” But that
very reaction to these so-called “accelerated learning
schools” fueled our desire to find out just what
MCSE boot camps are all about.
We decided to take a close look at several of these schools,
then talk with boot camp graduates to see whether this
is a good way to spend your (or your company’s) education
budget. To that end, we visited four boot camps and gathered
comments about four more schools via a survey of past
Ma’am, Yes, Ma’am!
First, let’s qualify what we’re talking about,
since vendors use the term “boot camp” in various
ways (in fact, some vendors avoid it completely, believing
that it carries negative connotations). MCSE camps are
becoming a booming business, with some big players like
Wave Technologies starting to jostle the original mom-and-pop
organizations like ACREW and Mountain View Systems.
A boot camp, by our definition for this article, offers
a concentrated, accelerated learning process of one to
two weeks, away from the work environment. All the boot
camps we looked at are geared at helping you earn a Microsoft
Certified Systems Engineer title; some, in fact, guarantee
it (see “7
Rules for Selecting a Boot Camp”). Some have
expanded into the smaller MCSD market, MCSE+Internet training,
and even other certifications, like those from Cisco.
Up That Rope!
Boot camps aren’t for everyone, or even for most
of us. If you’re looking at a quickie way to get
your MCSE sans Windows NT 4.0 experience, forget it. You’ll
never make it through. Or if you do, you’ll embarrass
yourself once you get out in the field.
But if you’ve got a solid background in networking,
have spent at least some time with NT, and just can’t
find time to study for that elusive certification title,
a boot camp setting might be right for you. In fact, many
of the students we encountered during our boot camp visits
fit that exact profile.
A boot camp might also be a good choice for an experienced
network administrator making a transition to NT from Novell,
Unix, or another OS. “For the [MCSE] certification,
you need to know how to use NT in many different environments,”
said one boot camp student who works with NT daily on
the job. “I don’t do that at work.”
Even if you go in with an extensive knowledge base, don’t
expect fun and games. Even the most experienced sys admins
we encountered were sweating bullets to get through. “Military
boot camp was easier than this,” a student at Mountain
View Systems told us. This is one tough way to spend a
The primary argument against MCSE boot camps is generally
that you can’t possibly learn six exams’ worth
of knowledge—and retain any meaningful portion of
it—in such a short period of time. Boot camps argue
the opposite—that by immersing yourself in the technology,
you learn much more than you would at a standard instructor-led
class. “Actually, I think you retain more,”
a student at ACREW told us. “One of the key things
about the camp environment is the reinforcement [among
students] after class.”
According to boot camp vendors, the concentrated exposure
to knowledge while away from daily distractions combines
well with peer interaction, camaraderie, and intense focus.
All of that lets you learn as much (or more) as you might
in a comparable six weeks’ worth of classes in a
standard Authorized Technical Education Center (ATEC)
or other classroom setting.
Good boot camps also screen their applicants, claiming
to enroll only students with some meaningful experience
in networking and IT. “The key to success in a boot
camp is a good foundation in networking,” according
to James Carrion, owner of and trainer at Mountain View
Systems. A good screening process works in the school’s
best interest. If a school gets greedy and starts accepting
everyone, its MCSE pass rate drops. The school also risks
complaints from other students that newbies held back
If you decide this route’s for you, be careful about
who’s calling themselves a boot camp. They range
in style, purpose, and approach. Susan Thayer Yates, who
owns Colorado-based ACREW, one of the pioneers in the
MCSE accelerated learning business, maintains that to
qualify as a boot camp, the experience must be intense,
isolated, and “painful.”
Do boot camps produce “paper” MCSEs? No doubt,
some do. But so do regular technical courses. And so does
self-study—if your definition of a paper MCSE is
someone with the knowledge but not the experience. But
be careful who you’re tarring with that “boot
camp MCSE” brush. We met network managers, systems
integrators, and high-level support personnel at the boot
camps we visited who had years of experience with various
operating systems, often including several years of working
with NT. Nevertheless, they hadn’t found the time
to get an MCSE through self-study or classes, and were
trying this method. After two weeks of concentrated training,
most of them returned to their companies with a brand-new
MCSE title in hand.
from Other Boot Camp Students
to do any work-related things while going
through the training. Advise your company
not to try holding training sessions on
site. This prevents distracting interruptions.
Leave your [pagers] and cell phones at
—Matt Butler, MCSE, who attended
training at Aris
“Be prepared for long hard hours
of study. Understand the concepts of
—Dan Hale, MCSE, who attended
“Advanced preparation or [extensive]
experience is required for this as well
as other boot camp-type training that
I’ve attended previously.”
—Bo Engstrom, CNE, who attended
“The appeal is quick and, compared
to ATECs, it’s cheap training.
I wouldn’t recommend [boot] camp
training. Having since taken a SQL [course]
through an ATEC, I find ATEC training
superior. Boot camps are almost a scam.
You get what you pay for. You don’t
realize how much they’re not teaching
you compared to how they market it.
Knowing what I know now, I would have
gladly paid $3,000 more and invested
the six weeks of time at an ATEC.”
—An anonymous student who attended
Microhard’s Camp MCSE
“You must work with the information
that is provided. I took the course
but haven’t worked on PCs since.
If you don’t interact with the
equipment, you don’t re-enforce
the training. Do not try to take the
two-week boot camp unless you have a
solid working knowledge of NT.”
—Tom Zwolinski, who attended
Microhard’s Camp MCSE
“Get as much hands-on time as
possible. The more experience you have
prior to going in, the better your chances
—Richard Cressy, MCSE, MCP+I,
CDP, CCP, who attended Mountain View
Systems’ MCSE Boot Camp
“Don’t use MCSE training
as a substitute for real on-the-job
experience, but expect this camp to
strengthen your existing knowledge base
if you’re a qualified candidate
for an MCSE. There’s no free lunch,
but if you deserve it and are ready
for the challenge, the experience will
be both challenging and rewarding.”
—Shayne Cole, MCSE, MCP+I, who
attended Wave Technologies’ Camp
“Make sure you’re prepared
for the course. It’s not meant
to be a vacation. The course I attended
was 14 days long, with an average of
12- to 14-hour days in the classroom.
Plan on studying in the evening also.
You definitely need to have the required
experience. If you arrive with less
than the required experience, you’ll
be slowing not only yourself down, but
also your classmates. A good notebook
computer is nice to have so you can
run the practice exams in the evening
in your room…. For many people,
this is the only way to get the chance
to study in an appropriate environment.
The focused training, the support of
the instructor (James would actually
come to your room after 12 hours in
the classroom to assist with problem
areas), and the input and assistance
from other students was invaluable.”
—Coley Foster, MCSE, MCP+I,
who attended Mountain View Systems’
MCSE Boot Camp
Tough Hours with ACREW
It’s too bad you’ll spend all your time at
ACREW with your nose stuck in study guides or staring
bleary-eyed at DNS routing diagrams, because the setting
is gorgeous. On the way in, I had to jam on the brakes
to avoid hitting a deer. A friendly golden retriever named
Eleanor Rigby greeted me at the door.
“They do everything possible to avoid any distractions,”
a student told me. That depends on how you define a distraction,
I guess. The school, housed in a converted bed and breakfast
in the Colorado mountains that used to be a stage coach
inn and a brothel, includes plenty of amenities. Along
with the T-1 Internet line into the classroom, you’ll
find a sauna, hot tub (into which, yes, students are known
to take study guides at night), and gourmet meals provided
by an on-site chef fondly referred to by students as “Butchy.”
He provides amenities like fresh cinnamon rolls during
the morning break and warm cookies late at night. Visits
from a masseuse are extra charge.
The course covers the three Windows NT 4.0 exams first,
then IIS, TCP/IP, and, finally, Networking Essentials.
Microsoft Press study guides are used, and for each of
the six exams covered, students are issued copies of Transcender’s
test prep materials.
The day I visit, the 11th of a 16-day course, the class
of 11 men and one woman are moving rapidly through the
Microsoft Press TCP/IP self-study guide. The instructor,
Todd King, an MCSE and MCT, follows the guide almost page
by page through the morning, throwing in a few side remarks
to the class. “I highly recommend that you practice
with it,” he says during a discussion of DNS. That
practice will occur tonight after dinner (the classroom/lab
is open 24 hours a day). King comments at another point
in discussing IP, “Know it forward for the test;
know it backward for real life.”
“This may be one of the most intense things you
can expose [yourself] to,” one student tells me during
a break. He has “three to four solid years”
using both NetWare and NT on a 100-person LAN, but admits
to struggling after passing two of the first three exams.
He explains that his use of NT has been “sheltered”—that
he hasn’t come close to using all of the features
that he’s learning about here. He’s chosen a
boot camp because “I like the options that an MCSE
provides me,” but “It’s extremely difficult
to study when you’re working full-time.”
Another of the more experienced students says, “The
self-study thing just didn’t work in the environment
I was in... There’s nothing to do here but study,
and that’s good for me.” He adds, “There’s
only so much you can pick up [using self-study]. I learn
a lot better in a hands-on environment… I was really
concerned coming here. I’ve heard that the tests
are really hard.” He has five years of experience
in networking and works as a PC analyst in a company of
LANs and WANs (about 3,000 seats) that is gradually moving
from Novell to Microsoft. “This is really good for
people who already have significant experience with the
product. You don’t come here from ground zero. It
doesn’t work that way.” Although he considers
himself in the top third of the class based on experience,
“the pace is fast.” He’s passed all three
exams given so far.
Instructor King, who is also an Internet consultant in
the area, offers an excellent afternoon of IIS instruction
during which his experience in the field shows. Rather
than following the text closely, as he did during the
morning class, he expands the lecture with lots of straight-from-the-field
talk about security, install challenges, and other IIS
tips. The afternoon is also very hands-on, as King takes
the students through setting and changing Web site permissions,
rerouting a site or taking a portion offline, changing
access, and more. The pace is fast, with each student
working at his or her own system.
Although King roams the room and tries to keep everyone
on track, he acknowledges later, “I have to leave
some of the slower students behind to maintain the pace.”
Inevitably, he admits, boot camps must leave out some
material in order to stay on schedule. He tries to be
a conscientious instructor, he says, and finds ACREW supports
him in that—“We try to avoid spoon-feeding the
By the day of my visit, students have taken the three
NT exams at the testing center on site, with varying success
rates. Those with some networking experience (the majority
of the class), have passed all three. Some of the less
experienced students are struggling to keep up, and two
students haven’t passed a single exam yet.
While ACREW owner Susan Thayer Yates says she screens
students thoroughly, I found a wide range of expertise
in the class. One student, the least experienced, had
a Macintosh at home and was making a career change after
retiring from the military. He hadn’t passed an exam
yet, nor did he expect to. “I knew it would be like
this before I got here,” he says. “I’d
be a lot happier if I got the MCSE, but I’m going
to come out of here with a bucketful of knowledge.”
Another less-experienced student says that although she’s
enjoyed the experience and doesn’t regret it or the
money she’s spent, “I wouldn’t recommend
it for someone in my position.” As a support person
at a small firm in which she’s responsible for network
administration (of a LANtastic network), she acknowledges
being somewhat over her head. She also hasn’t passed
an exam yet. “If I had to do it over, knowing what
I do now, I wouldn’t do it,” she says.
Both students stress, however, that ACREW warned them
before they signed up that the pace would be intense and
not intended for beginners. (“They tried to discourage
me,” one says—he says he insisted on attending
anyway.) Neither was promised an MCSE; Yates says that
she doesn’t guarantee the title to any student, and
ACREW’s advertising reflects that. ACREW allows students
to return and audit the class once during the following
six months if they don’t pass all of their exams.
The wide range of expertise actually seems to pay off
in the evenings after dinner, when the students gather
in groups in the lounge areas or classroom to study. There,
the experienced students lead the less-experienced through
explanations, rehashes of the day’s lecture, and
whiteboard diagrams. “That’s where you reinforce
what you’ve learned,” one of the most advanced
students tells me.
With 10 years of experience in network administration,
four of them doing level three support for Windows NT,
he says he’s still learning plenty. “Even with
lots of experience with NT, you’re narrowed by the
implementation your company uses,” he says. “I’ve
been dealing with TCP/IP for years, but there’s so
much I didn’t know.” He’s attended ATEC
classes, but finds that it’s easier for his company
to spare him for 10 solid days rather than for intermittent
weeks of classes.
This student maintains that rather than learning less
at this accelerated pace, he’s learning more, for
several reasons. First, “you live and breathe the
products” during the two weeks, rather than returning
to work and home and becoming distracted. Second, the
interaction with others is crucial, since he’s found
that students learn from each other almost as much as
they learn during class. “It’s 10 steps above
an ATEC,” he concludes.
If you’re the type who wants to be pampered while
you’re being tortured, try this camp. It’s isolated
(no televisions in the rooms, for example), concentrated,
and away from just about everything. ACREW uses several
instructors, so check specific references on who will
be teaching your course.
ACREW says it screens students carefully to exclude beginners,
but the class I visited had a far wider range of experience
than you might expect. Although none of the more experienced
students complained about the beginners, they could hold
back the class. You pay a bit more for the extras—great
location and food, pampering, and Transcender products
to take home, for example. Since the majority of students
are sent by their companies, price may not be the bottom
line for all.
Rules for Selecting a Boot Camp
Don’t fudge to get in. A good
boot camp screens students carefully.
That’s because you can’t (or
shouldn’t) pass six MCSE exams in
two weeks without a strong networking
background—if not some specific Windows
NT 4.0 experience. If you do manage to
muddle and memorize through to an MCSE,
you’ll be washed out in the field.
It’s a waste of your money, and of
the other students’ time when you
bog the class down with beginner questions.
2. Compare costs.
In addition to the instruction itself,
see if the camp includes the expense
of your flight (most don’t), transportation
from the airport to the site and back,
your room and meals, study and exam
prep materials, and the exams. Verify
what you can take with you when you
leave, since you may not pass all six
exams at the camp. Note that retakes
of exams are seldom included. By the
way, you may be able to use a Microsoft
Skills 2000 loan to pay for your course
if it’s given by an ATEC.
3. Get referrals.
For what you spend on a boot camp, you
could make a down payment on a house
or buy a slightly used Miata. Don’t
rely solely on comments posted on the
Web site. What company displays negative
customer comments? Remember that price
is not the bottom line. All of the boot
camps we’ve included here agreed
to supply names of former student to
survey. They should do the same for
you. Take the time to contact a few
students and see what experience they
had going in, what they learned, who
their instructor was, and whether they’d
do it again.
4. Check out
who your trainer will be. The
instructor (or instructors) is so key
to a successful boot camp experience
that we suggest you check not just the
school’s referrals, but the individual
instructor’s. Many boot camps are
still small operations—we recommend
that if you find a highly referred instructor,
ask for her or him by name. Have the
school agree that if that instructor
isn’t there when you show up, and
the replacement isn’t up to snuff,
you can get a refund. The ideal instructor
is both an MCSE and a Microsoft Certified
Trainer, has recent experience in the
field and a solid knowledge of technologies
in addition to Microsoft’s, and
is highly recommended by former students.
5. Ask about
the equipment before signing up.
You should get your very own networked
Windows NT machine in class so that
you can follow along and try things
out during the lecture or after class.
Make sure the lab is open after hours,
so you can study on your hours, not
the instructor’s. A nice plus is
Internet access at the site, both for
research and studying purposes, and
for practicing for the IIS exam.
worry about location. Some boot
camps tout their lovely settings, but
except for the cost of the plane fare,
it doesn’t really matter. You’ll
be studying all the time anyway. We
went to lunch with a class in Colorado
on Thursday in which students hadn’t
been outside the hotel since Monday.
7. Check for
guarantees. Not a guarantee that
you’ll become an MCSE—we’re
a bit suspicious of that one. (Does
that mean obtuse students are spoon-fed
the exam answers?) Rather, check whether
you can get a portion of your money
back at some point. If the school proves
far too difficult, what’s your
recourse? What if the instructor is
bad? If you fall ill? At Mountain View
Systems, for example, you can audit
the class at no charge anytime during
a year if you fail any exam (although
that might be difficult if you’ve
traveled from a remote location). Other
schools make similar offers.
Yourself at Mountain View Systems
Unlike some of its competitors, Mountain View Systems
embraces the term “boot camp.” Owner and principal
instructor James Carrion explains that the phrase is meant
to sum up the intensity and camaraderie of his two-week
MCSE course. “I like the term because it’s a
crash course—it changes who you are,” he says.
Carrion runs his courses out of a Marriott hotel in Fort
Collins, Colorado, two hours north of Denver International
Airport. The company has been in business since January.
(Carrion has also opened a center in Atlanta.) The course
price includes a room at the hotel and most meals—which
may include pizza or sandwiches sent in to the classroom
to avoid interruptions.
Despite the bucolic setting of northern Colorado, this
is no vacation. “They’re taking six weeks of
ATEC classes in two weeks,” Carrion says of his students,
with all content included except the labs.
Carrion, an MCSE, MCT, and CNE who worked in the industry
before becoming an instructor, got high marks from every
student I talked to at the course I visited. During class,
he displays an impressive depth and breadth of knowledge
about networking and Windows NT, as well as non-Microsoft
technologies and operating systems. Carrion’s knowledge
and teaching style is a key reason you might consider
this camp. “He has the ability to really make complex
subjects understandable,” one student remarks. Another,
a former teacher, gives Carrion an “A” as well,
saying that he employs teaching techniques to encompass
all kinds of learners.
Like most boot camps, Mountain View Systems claims to
screen students carefully to avoid beginners. Carrion
says his target attendee is “The IS professional
who doesn’t have time to attend regular classes.”
The problem student, on the other hand, is someone who
is so eager to earn an MCSE that he or she lies about
experience to gain admittance. “A solid background
in networking is absolutely required” to succeed,
Carrion reiterates, but says that he’s never turned
anyone away. “I just tell them, ‘You’re
wasting your money.’”
In the class I visit, most of the students are from NCR
Corp. in Ohio, a large corporate client of Mountain View
Systems, and most have an extensive background in networked
operating systems, ranging from Unix, Novell, and Banyan,
to some Windows NT. Some students have 15 or more years
of experience in IT; no one I spoke to had fewer than
I talk to one student with a long history in networking,
but no NT experience at all. “This [course] will
give me enough to get assigned to NT projects” at
his company, he says, although “I wouldn’t want
to lead a project.” Along with other students, he
confirms that Mountain View’s screening process was
thorough. To prepare for the class, he said, Carrion also
suggested that “I do a few [NT] installs.”
I’m visiting Mountain View’s camp on its fourth
day, as the class of 11 men and one woman is preparing
for its first exam—Windows NT Workstation. Class
runs from 8:30 to 5:30 every day, weekends included, with
group study sessions most evenings. The classroom/lab
is available around the clock. Many students bring a laptop
in addition to the individual classroom machines, and
study in their rooms during the hours they’re not
in class. “I went to sleep [last night] at 2:30,
mentally taking the [NT Workstation] test,” one student
Passing this first exam, Carrion says, is crucial to
the students’ psychological well-being through the
rest of the course. “I’ve spent the first three
days putting the fear of God in them,” he says, along
with plenty of NT knowledge.
On this day, the class spends the first two hours answering
questions about NT Workstation as a group, using exam
prep software from CICPreptechnologies, then discussing
the answers. (Students are licensed to use the exam prep
software during the course, but must agree to remove it
from their laptops afterward.) Carrion jumps in frequently
to point out inaccuracies in the questions and answers
or to expound on a point: “That’s the best answer
but not the correct [real-world] answer,” or, “They’re
getting questions right out of the [product] documentation,
but it’s wrong,” or “Any time a Microsoft
product is a choice, that’s the correct answer [to
an exam question].”
Although Carrion says his agenda is knowledge-based rather
than exam-based, the course content is certainly exam-driven.
During the NT Workstation review, he breezes past a server
question. “For this test, you don’t need to
know anything about gateways. That’s on tomorrow’s
test.” The class uses the Microsoft Press MCSE Core
Requirement Training Kit, which Carrion refers to on occasion,
but doesn’t follow completely.
At 10, Carrion tells students to put away their notes
and study materials and leave the class so that he can
turn it into a testing center. (He has a contract with
VUE, one of the testing firms that Microsoft works with,
to offer exams at his hotel site.) After a short break,
students return, sign in, present the requisite two types
of ID, and take their first exam.
An hour-plus later, they begin to emerge and congregate
in the hotel hallway. The camaraderie that Carrion emphasized
is evident. “How’d you do?” they ask each
emerging test-taker, and hearty congratulations and handshakes
are extended all around. In the end, every student but
one has passed this first test. “One down, five to
go,” says one student with a grin.
Carrion shows me the test transcript of the student who
failed. The score, he thinks, is too low for him to hope
that a little more study will bring this student through.
Now what? Carrion shakes his head. “Even if they
leave with no credentials, they’ll walk away with
the knowledge.” (When I check back with him later,
he confirms that 10 of 11 students (one student is auditing
the course) have earned their MCSEs.)
After the exam, the class celebrates with an off-site
lunch at a local restaurant. Student after student tells
me they’ve chosen the boot camp method because they
lack the time to study on the job. This despite the fact
that NCR supplies MCSE study materials and test preparation
tools to them at no charge. “We’re all so busy
as employees, we’ve got no time to study,” one
student tells me. “I was really skeptical [of boot
camps] in the beginning,” another says. “Yeah,
‘paper MCSEs.’ But that hasn’t been my
experience at all.” However, she adds, “This
isn’t training. It really works only when you’ve
got the [appropriate] background already.”
After lunch, students head back to face an all-afternoon
lecture on NT Server, followed by a group study session
all evening. Friday morning, they’ll review NT Server
exam prep questions in the morning, then take their second
exam. Then it’s on to TCP/IP for three days, and
so forth. There’s no weekend to speak of—Saturday
and Sunday will be consumed by TCP/IP class and study.
The one break is an afternoon off on Monday, after passage
of the third exam. Then it’s on to NT Server (Enterprise)
(one day), Internet Information Server (one day), and
Networking Essentials (one day).
Carrion has structured the 13-and-a-half day course carefully,
he says, to build on previous knowledge. That’s why
the class spends the first three intense days on NT Workstation,
then just a day on NT Server. The course ends with the
Networking Essentials exam so that CNE students, for whom
Microsoft waives that exam, can leave early.
Carrion is an informed, conscientious instructor who
knows his stuff and genuinely cares about his students.
If you’re like past attendees, you’ll exchange
e-mail with him long after your boot camp experience is
(mercifully) behind you.
The “MCSE guaranteed” message on Mountain View’s
Web site is questionable. The implication is, we’ll
get you through one way or another. What it really means
is that you can retake the course for up to a year if
you fail any exam. A focus on the high quality of the
instruction would be better.
MCSE Boot Camps
|$8,495; $6,995 for local
||Instruction (NT suite, TCP/IP,
IIS, NetEss); room and board; shuttle
to/from airport; 6 exam vouchers; MS Press
study guides; Transcender exam prep materials.
||Beginners discouraged. Student
must sign questionnaire listing network
||Pampers you while it tortures
you. If you don’t pass, you can return
and audit course any time during next
6 months. See review.
MCSE BootStrap Training
+44 (0) 1865-315200
offers custom boot camp training. www.aris.com
||Instruction (NT suite, TCP/IP,
Exchange 5.0); Microsoft Official Curriculum;
room and board. Custom programs vary in
what they include.
||You must pass NetEss, study
course 803, Administering NT, and pass
NT 4 Admin self-assessment test and return
results before attending.
||Says one student: “If
you’re…totally dedicated to
getting your MCSE, then this training
is perfect…. If you’re easily
distracted, then you’ll have problems.
Plan on 16-20 hours a day of studying.”
|Tuition $4,995, 14 nights
of hotel $1,599, 6 exams $599. Total:
||San Francisco; Denver
||Instruction (NT suite, TCP/IP,
IIS, NetEss); Microsoft Official Curriculum;
hotel; 6 exam vouchers; use of exam simulation
materials during course*.
||According to the marketing
material, all that’s needed is familiarity
with 95 and/or NT, networking and network
protocols and a “willingness to invest
two demanding weeks of training.”
However, students said they were interviewed
prior to registration for qualifications.
||Says one student: “I’m
pleased to learn that MCSE Academy now
also has new facilities in Denver and
provides Cisco training, which I contemplate
attending in the near future.”
|$5,995; $4,995 for local
Oak Brook, Illinois; Schaumburg, Illinois;
St. Louis; Dallas; Toronto, Ontario
|10 days (over the course
of 2 weeks)
||Instruction (NT suite, NetEss,
TCP/IP, IIS 3.0); hotel; airfare; airport
shuttle; instructor notes; textbooks;
MCSEQuest exam prep materials.
Computer and networking background including
experience with DOS and Windows 95.”
The company doesn’t interview students
prior to attendance, according to those
|You’re expected to
take exams after attending, not during.
Student feedback was mixed regarding classroom
equipment, quality of instructors, and
the training experience.
MCSE “Boot Camp”
|$6,995; $6,295 for local
||Fort Collins, Colorado;
||Instruction (NT suite, TCP/IP,
IIS, NetEss); hotel and most meals; shuttle
to/from airport; 6 exam vouchers; CICPrep
||Telephone conversation with
instructor. Beginners are told, “You’re
wasting your money.”
||One-man show with excellent
instructor. If you don’t pass, you
can return and audit course any time during
next 12 months. Students were mixed regarding
the quality of classroom equipment. See
||Capitola, California (near
||10 days (over the course
of 2 weeks)
||Instruction (NT suite, NetEss,
TCP/IP, IIS 4.0).
||Training customized to student
||Personalized attention with
none of the frills. So small and new,
it doesn’t have a Web site yet. See
||10 days (over
the course of two weeks)
(NT suite, NetEss, TCP/IP, IIS 4.0); Wave-produced
study manuals, videos, product simulations,
product and exam simulations; access to
Wave’s Online University.
that attempts to filter people into appropriate
||Says one student:
“I passed all my tests the first
time and in a span of 11 days…The
staff at Camp Wave will do everything
they can to prepare you.” Company
offers interesting guarantee to employers:
“If your employee leaves your company
within one year of the first day of [training],
send a replacement to the same classes
for just the cost of materials.”
* Must return after course is over.
NT suite includes Windows NT Workstation
4.0, NT Server 4.0, and NT Server 4.0
in the Enterprise training.
Above Water at Camp Wave
When I entered the classroom, I felt I should drop to
the floor and give the instructor 50 push-ups. After all,
I was five minutes late on the third day of Camp Wave,
and the students were eager to continue with the day’s
lessons. I sensed that they considered me a pariah and
a major disruption to their goals, even though instructor
and MCSE Rob Maloney tried to smooth over my apparent
intrusion by introducing and welcoming me as a guest.
I took a seat in the back of the classroom.
Wave Technologies bills its exam preparation classes
as boot camps. Within an intense and grueling short time,
instructors intend to mold you into someone who can easily
tackle the tasks for which you were trained. The boot
camp parallels end there; instruction takes place in a
typical technical training center, with computers, cables,
and courseware strewn on desktops. Unlike ACREW and Mountain
View, Wave breaks for weekends, for a total class time
of 10 days.
Weeks before attending class, students receive a training
kit that contains the Wave courseware, CDs, tests, and
videos for preparing for the two-week course. Thirteen
students originally signed up for this boot camp, but
only 11 got past day two. According to Wave, two students—Unix
experts looking to get up to speed on NT—were inadequately
experienced with NT to pass the exams. (Wave recommended
that they take courses for NT newbies instead; both of
them are getting training through Wave’s Corporate
Club Wave program.)
Ideally, the goal of Camp Wave was to turn the remaining
11 students, all of whom were at least sufficiently skilled
in implementing and supporting NT, into MCSEs through
immersion. Six students elected to take the course within
the two weeks; five opted to slide in a one-week break
from the intense study before proceeding with the second
portion of the boot camp, and some from this batch also
chose to take their elective exams offsite.
The course itself is tightly structured. Using courseware
written by Wave instructors and developers, students are
given a brief but focused overview of the software and
exam objectives. This is followed by many hours of detailed
coverage of the product, paired with drills and study
sessions. The curriculum is well-crafted, with topic discussions
broken up by drills done on Wave-authored self-assessment
software. On the day following the topic coverage, students
take the applicable exam at the testing center onsite.
The next study session begins immediately after all students
have completed their turn at the testing center.
During the study session I attended, Maloney would ask
a question and students would bark out responses. Breaks
are also offered a few times a day, but rarely did any
student venture out of class, possibly for fear of wasting
valuable study time.
At one break I mustered the courage to talk to one worn-looking
participant, Michael Koontz, an IS systems technician
at Wacker Siltronic Corp. in Portland, Oregon.
“It hasn’t had time to sink in, the fact that
we’re MCPs,” he said with a protracted sigh,
“probably because we’re already deep into study
for the next exam.” Koontz told me that all 11 students
had passed their first exam for Windows NT Server 4.0
(70-067), which they took the morning of the second day
Koontz believes that his company “was happy to lose
us for two weeks, if it meant that the company would get
two MCSEs on staff” in the process (a colleague from
his company was also at Camp Wave). The boot camp approach,
he felt, was paying off quickly: “The pace is intense,
but it’s better than doing self-study, which is what
we were trying to do in our spare time.”
Koontz elected to split up his two weeks and planned
to take the two elective exams on his own once he did
some follow-up studying. When I contacted him about four
weeks after my visit, he was a newly minted MCSE.
According to the company, eight students passed all three
NT 4.0 exams the first week, and six students achieved
their MCSE titles within the two-week period. Early returns
on the program’s success have Wave announcing more
boot camps across the country in select cities.
Here’s what you get for your money: Courseware,
exam assessment software, videos, mentoring services for
a year, and a money-back guarantee if you don’t become
an MCSE. A nice bonus: Many training centers also have
Sylvan testing centers, so you can opt to take exams soon
after you’re done cramming, when the material is
freshest in your mind.
You know the instructor that did an excellent job covering
all the core stuff at your first week at Camp Wave? Well,
he or she may not be back the following week. One student
found the differences in the new instructor’s approach
and pacing disruptive to his concentration.
Companies To Consider
|Although we didn’t
profile these companies, they also offer
accelerated training programs.
Accelerated MCSE in a Week, Accelerated
MCSD in a Week
Offers 5-day training in Austin, Texas;
Houston, Texas; San Jose, California;
New York City.
Training and exam vouchers $3,000.
American Fork, Utah
ProTrack: MCSE Certification Preparation.
Offers 5-day training in multiple U.S.
MCSE “Boot Camp.”
Offers training in Denver, Colorado
Springs, and Philadelphia.
Training, hotel, meals, airport shuttle,
six exam vouchers, and Microsoft Official
Curriculum materials for $8,595.
Personal Touch with Network Training
Gary Rollinson, who does Microsoft, Cisco, and NetWare
contract training for several firms and a university in
Silicon Valley, is the owner of this solo operation, and
I visited the premier class for his program. He wasn’t
sure he was going to hold the class until a week before
the scheduled start date. Two students attended, one from
Riverside, California, and another from Phoenix, Arizona.
By default, the instructor focused on personal training.
Network Training’s class took place at a local Computerland
store. It seemed as though a space was cleared near the
front of the classroom—software, hardware, and books
were stacked haphazardly in bookcases along the walls,
and several unused chairs were pushed to one corner. The
class might have held 10 students, tops, but it was just
the instructor, two students, and several networked computers
set up in front of a white board. We wouldn’t remain
strangers for long in this intimate setting.
I arrived on the ninth day of the course and, surprisingly,
both students looked invigorated. The topic of the day:
Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0 for exam 70-087.
In this 10-day boot camp, Rollinson provides the bare
essentials: self-authored courseware and a classroom with
networked computers that contain all the software needed
to thoroughly cover the six MCSE exams (uninstalled, of
course; software installation is performed by the students
as part of the training). Students have to arrange and
pay for their own travel and hotel. Network Training doesn’t
offer exam scheduling or pay for exams.
Rollinson contends that the Microsoft Official Curriculum,
which he teaches from in his regular training classes,
is too convoluted and time-consuming for those who already
have years of experience. Drawing from his expertise as
an instructor and system integrator, he devised his own
set of courseware, focused on providing training at a
quickened pace and with coverage of key exam objectives.
“I like the way Gary organized the objectives,”
explained Guy Miller, an instructor at the California
State University, San Bernardino, adding that it isn’t
as bloated as the Microsoft Official Curriculum materials.
“And because the class is just me and [one other
student], I can ask Gary to go back and cover something
in detail.” Admittedly, achieving the title wasn’t
this prospective MCSE’s primary goal. “I manage
a group [of network administrators],” he said, and
he’s taking the course to make sure he’s “as
knowledgeable” as the primary technologists on his
team, so he can be of more assistance in the decision-making
When I followed up with this student a few weeks later,
he had just scheduled his first exam. He estimates that
it will take him about four to five months to achieve
the title. “I’m also doing coursework for my
Masters,” he said, but believes Rollinson’s
instruction and material will go a long way in keeping
him focused on his MCSE objectives.
If you’re a network administrator with a solid background
in NT and you’re looking for an inexpensive, no-frills
boot camp, this is it. Also, the small class size practically
guarantees that you’ll receive personal attention
and instruction at your pace.
You’ll have to stay motivated and schedule all your
exams after you’ve finished the two-week course and